The Earth and Atmospheric Electricity


Vladimir Shuleikin
Chief Researcher of the Oil and Gas Research Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

Series: Earth Sciences in the 21st Century
BISAC: SCI042000



According to the provisions of the surface atmospheric electricity theory, the space charge of the surface air layer owes its origin to ionization by exhaling soil radon. According to field observations, a model representation of relations between hydrogen, methane, radon, and surface atmospheric electricity elements is composed. Bubbles of two volatile gases carry soil radon from a depth of 4-6 m to the near-surface atmosphere. As a consequence, light ions produced by ionization determine polar conductivity of the surface air; light ion aggregation with neutral condensation nuclei produces heavy ions primarily responsible for the atmospheric electric field. This means that the surface atmospheric electricity is determined by local geology and geodynamics.

According to the field observations, the radon content in the surface soil layers is at least two orders of magnitude higher than the concentration of ionizer exhalation. A change in the soil radon content of a single percent will lead to a twofold change in the exhalation concentration, i.e., to a twofold change in the polar conductivities and the atmospheric electric field. This means that the surface atmospheric electricity elements will be extremely sensitive to variations in the subvertical carrier gas (hydrogen and methane) flow density.

The results of multiple field observations prove the correctness of the above assumptions. The increased soil-atmosphere air exchange above fault zones, the basement top settling area, and the zones of natural or human-made soil loosening leads to an abrupt decrease in the atmospheric electric field and an increase in the polar air conductivity. An increase in the sub-vertical flow density of hydrogen above the ore body cap or methane in the oil field plume inevitably leads to low values of the atmospheric electric field within the deposit boundaries. The effect can be increased by the presence of natural or human-made seismic excitation in geological environments.

The industrial level withdrawal of artesian waters is accompanied by a multiple increase in the atmospheric electric field above the area of hydrogeological processes; methane injection into the underground gas storage, industrial disposal of industrial wastewater leads to the opposite effect, i.e., a decrease of the atmospheric electric field. Taking into account the model constructed, complex measurements of surface atmospheric electricity elements—hydrogen and radon—allow for an indirect expression estimate of the soil methane content above the level of (10-6 – 10-5) vol.% and monitoring of the landslide stressed state.

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